Michael Britt-Leon of Alpharetta, GA, capped off his first trip to the Capital Challenge Horse Show with the victory in the $10,000 World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) Professional Finals on Friday, October 2.
Six of the country’s top professional hunter riders went head to head at the World Equestrian Center in Wilmington, OH, with Britt-Leon claiming the title for the first time with an overall score of 186.16 aboard Private I.
“It is a dream come true to win the WCHR Professional Finals,” Britt-Leon said of his win. “I have watched this class for a while. Being here in 2020 when it’s been so crazy, just being at a horse show of this caliber, is incredible. It’s been a memorable and wonderful experience. This just put it over the top.”
This was Britt-Leon’s very first appearance in the class, and he joined Evan Coluccio, Greg Crolick, Kelley Farmer, Courtney Lenkart, and Geoffrey Hesslink in the line-up to ride for the title.
Britt-Leon came into the WCHR Professional Finals as the leader of the WCHR National Professional year-end standings by virtue of points earned at WCHR-designated shows throughout the year. The top six riders in the national WCHR professional standings qualified for Friday’s class.
The 2020 Pro Finals featured a new format, beginning with the riders taking on a classic hunter round on the horse of their choosing. They then all advanced to the second round, over an extremely technical handy round with the choice of riding a different horse. Each returned on the same horse in reverse order of first round scores, with Britt-Leon riding last on a first-round score of 92.00.
“The change in the WCHR Pro Finals format this year was due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Caroline Weeden, the USHJA WCHR Task Force Chair. “We’re trying to minimize exposure between the different riders, switching horses, grooms holding horses, tack and equipment. Horse welfare also played a role in our decision to allow the riders to use a horse of the rider’s choosing for the Classic or Handy rounds.”
Britt-Leon chose to ride Kelly Sims’s Private I in both rounds. “Private I rose to the occasion,” he said of his mount, an eight-year-old Oldenburg gelding by Corrado. “He jumped out of his skin at every jump and gave me everything I wanted. Of course, you’re riding with the best of the best, so it was anyone’s game tonight. He really rose to the challenge and pushed himself and pushed me to be better and brighter. I couldn’t be happier.
“Yes, there were nerves for sure,” he noted of returning to the second-round at the top of the leaderboard. “I put pressure on myself and that’s how I keep pushing forward. I think there were a lot of tricks to the course, but it was a lot of fun. I loved the short turn to a bounce. That got to show a horse’s brilliance, to come off that short turn and be bright, land, and leave right away. I chose to finish after the walk-through with a big gallop to the last jump.”
The judges rewarded Britt-Leon and Private I with scores of 95.50, 94.00, and 93.00 for an average of 94.16 and a two-round total of 186.16 for victory.
Reserve honors went to Geoffrey Hesslink aboard Bond, owned by Shadowfax Equestrian, LLC, on a total score of 185.99 after they received average scores of 91.66 and 94.33.
Also as part of Friday night’s presentations, third-place finisher Coluccio’s mount High Society, owned by The Lignelli Family, and his groom, Rodrigo Hernandez, were awarded the Shapley’s Best Presented Award. High Society was also honored with The Far West Farms Perpetual Trophy, donated by the Karazissis Family, as the horse with the highest average score (95.33) from either the classic or handy round.
Ashton Alexander Aces Ariat National Adult Medal Finals
Ashton Alexander of Ocala, FL, led the victory gallop for the Ariat National Adult Medal Finals on Friday, October 2.
Alexander, 23, and her mount Travis Scott led the two-round class from beginning to end with a score of 90.25 in the first round and an 88.50 in the second round for a 178.75 total. With more than five points between Alexander and the next closest competitor, no further testing was needed to decide the winner.
Finishing in second behind Alexander was Grace Pearson of Seattle, WA, who rode Condor to scores of 88.33 and 85.66 for a 173.99 total. Third place with scores of 87.16 and 86.33 for a 173.49 total went to Hannah Eddlemon of Beavercreek, OH, riding Now We’re Talkin’.
“It’s very exciting to win this,” said Alexander, who trains with Berry Porter of Conroe, TX. “This was actually kind of a late goal we had since COVID happened. I ended up coming back and started riding again; I took some time off riding while I was in school.
“I ended up having a wonderful horse, so we set a goal to come here,” continued Alexander, who graduated from Auburn University in May with her master’s degree in adult education and a minor in sports management. “It’s very exciting that we were able to accomplish this together.”
Alexander began riding Travis Scott, owned by Brookside Pine Farms LLC, in June, and this year marks the 10-year-old warmblood gelding’s equitation debut.
“He did some grand prix classes earlier in his life,” said Alexander of the gelding known in the barn as solely “Travis.” “He’s very much a doer. He almost makes his life a little bit harder because he tries too hard. This job that he has now is so much easier than what he was doing before, so our main goal has been getting him to settle down and realize that this is so easy for him. He always comes out every day wanting to do his best. He’s never going to let you down, by any means.”
The Capital Challenge Horse Show continues on Saturday beginning at 7:30 a.m. with the conclusion of the pony hunter divisions and the continuation of junior hunter divisions.
About the Capital Challenge Horse Show
Now in its 27th year, the Capital Challenge Horse Show, presented by the World Equestrian Center, sets itself apart with a distinct and unique focus on preeminent hunter and equitation competition. Held each autumn, the 2020 edition of the Capital Challenge Horse Show continues through October 4 at the World Equestrian Center in Wilmington, OH. The 10 days of competition will include prestigious equitation events, jumper divisions, the World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) Finals, the $25,000 3’ and 3’3” Green Hunter North American Championships, and more, with many of the country’s best horses and riders competing in junior, amateur, and professional divisions. Learn more at www.CapitalChallenge.com.